Disclaimer: these are a few things which have helped me feel better. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I’ve tried to pick things that have made a noticeable and, often, very quick difference to me, rather than things like: ‘Eat more vegetables!’ which I’m sure will help you, but you might not notice.
Everyone is different, and some of these may be of no use to you at all, or you may not be able to do them. If you read a heading and it doesn’t sound good, skip it. If you’re feeling low and find yourself skipping them all in teary despair, convinced that nothing will help, leave it for another time. Go and do something that will completely turn your brain off for a bit (for me, watching reruns of Friends is the ultimate switching-off activity!).
1.Be nice to yourself.
You are ill. Don’t beat yourself up on the days when you can’t manage much. The tendency is to berate yourself for being worthless and pointless and then making yourself feel worse, but try to accept that you won’t get much done today. Make yourself a cup of tea, put a favourite film on, try and behave to yourself like a comforting mother. Some days if I’m feeling shit and keep thinking of all the things I need to do, but can’t, I try and look after myself the way my mum would if she were there: ‘Stop. Go to the kitchen. Put the kettle on. Sit down. DO NOT get up and start doing the washing/ironing/cleaning/work/university reading. It can wait.’
2.Have a “bad days” to-do list.
A friend introduced this idea to me. Make a basic list of things to try and achieve on days when getting out of bed is a massive struggle. Number one can be, get out of bed. Ticking something off will help. And if that’s all you manage that day, that’s okay. Number two could be to have a shower. Eat something. Send an SOS to a friend who understands and knows how important it is to reply- or talk to SANE or Samaritans, who offer texting services like that if you don’t want to bother people. Read a favourite comforting book. If you can, go outside. Just a few things written down to save you having to think of what you should do when you’ve got an elephant sat on your chest. Moving about and accomplishing simple tasks can make you feel more positive.
This is a well-known one. Studies have shown that exercise can be as effective as anti-depressants for some people. However, I know people who can’t do much exercise for physical reasons, so obviously this is just more dispiriting for them. If you can, revel in your able-bodied-ness. Just go for a walk, or a swim, or whatever form of exercise is most comfortable for you: some people prefer the gym, others prefer being outside in a park. Whatever works for you, but I would particularly encourage…
As Plato said, ‘Music and rhythm make their way into the secret places of the soul,’ and as choreographer Pina Bausch said, ‘Dance, dance, without it we are lost.’ I genuinely think that dancing is one of the most beneficial things for people suffering from depression. I know it’s made a massive difference to me. And there are so many different types of classes now. Try something that you’ve always liked the sound of- ballet, zumba, whatever- and give it a go. It is scary. The night of your first class you’ll wish to God you weren’t going. But if you do manage to get there (and if, on the night, you can’t manage it, go to number 1 above: do not then spend the day beating yourself up about it), the worst that will happen is you don’t like it and never have to go again. The best thing that can happen is you find something that helps you in a deep, profound way. I don’t think anything beats moving to music. If you’re not sure what to try, I’d recommend picking a dance to music that you like- that way, even if you’re sure you’re doing all the steps wrong (WHO CARES?!), at least you’ll be enjoying the music. For me, that’s swing and blues dancing, to (astonishingly) swing and blues music. The music is all fantastic. Swing is uplifting, but blues heals. Half the people in my blues class refer to it as their weekly therapy. If you can’t dance, as in physically unable to, listen to the music, shut your eyes and dance in your head. That’s how I spend my time on the tube these days.
5.Do what you enjoy
I know that one of the worst bits of depression is that it can sometimes rob you of the enjoyment of those things which were most precious to you. A friend who has drawn all his life didn’t draw for months when he was very low, and it’s a vicious cycle: you can’t understand why it gives you no pleasure anymore, and you think if you could just do it, you would feel better- but you can’t. The numbness. Ugh, it’s the WORST. But, if you can, do a little of those things that you know make you happy: the things that make you lose all track of time while you’re in the middle of them. For me, one of those is sewing. I forget to eat when I’m making something, which I don’t recommend, but being completely immersed does help me not to think of sad things. It could be something very simple- reading, or browsing film trailers on YouTube. A good quote: ‘Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time’ – John Lennon. So do something that you want to do, that stops you wallowing, and don’t feel bad about doing it.